Spencer Gardner wrote an interesting piece for Strong Towns, A History of Zoning, Part II. Contrary to the views of some, zoning was not intended as a means to protect people from nuisances like air pollution, noise, etc. He argued that the purpose of zoning, at least as originally developed, was to protect single family homes from apartment houses. It was the view of Frederick Law Olmstead, an early advocate of zoning, that apartment houses and multi-family homes should be assigned to separate districts from single family homes, that single family homes should be located in such a way that they have adequate protection against apartment houses. Detached, single family homes were viewed as inherently superior for advancing civic virtue and good morals.
I am not sure that this view is the same as the reason people support zoning today. Clearly many today believe that when people own their homes, they will take better care of them. Most people also want to keep apartments or rental housing from being located close to their single family homes for fear that it would limit the potential appreciation of their homes.
This piece followed part I of a planned three-part series on the history of zoning. Part I talks about what zoning does and the legal underpinnings of zoning. Zoning law specifies height limits, setbacks and lot coverage. Zoning derives from the police power, which the US Constitution granted to state and local governments to regulate for the purpose of insuring the health, safety, morals, and general welfare of the people.